Maribor in 48 hours

Maribor is the second largest Slovenian city.  It has a population of about 100,000 so is still a small city.  It has an interesting old town and a great surrounding region to explore.  We spent 3 nights here, which meant that we had two full days to explore.  You could definitely do it in less, depending on what you are interested in but you could also spend more time  here.  So what did we do…

Old town

The old town is good for a look around.  Be aware it is almost empty during the day.  It is busiest early in the morning and the bars and cafes come alive at night.  A little tourist train leaves from the tourist centre and drives around the main sites if you can’t be bothered walking.  It is about 3 Euros.  Unfotunately there is no commentary so you are guessing a bit at what you are seeing.

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Hiking

You can drive to Pohorje, where you can go up on the cable car to the top, hike around a bit and have lunch at the hotel and come down the cable car again. You could hike down… it was a heat wave – we didn’t!  There is also a thermal swimming pool at the top which would be great in the winter.  It is 10 Euro’s entry.  At the bottom of the cable car there is another hotel which has a day pass for swimming.  It is 18 Euros for the day (no half day passes).  As it is outdoors it is probably a better option for the summer.

Wine

Maribor and the surrounding areas are wine country.  You can visit the oldest vine in the world (450 years old) and there is an interesting museum located at the site.

We had planned to do a winery tour.  If this is something that is of interest to you, you really do need a car and some guidance from the Wine Museum who will help you plot out the visit.  They helped us choose 4 wineries to visit and called ahead to make appointments for us.  In New Zealand this would be something that is likely to be hosted by an employee and you would taste a set flight, it would be all over in half an hour and you would move on to the next winery. Not so in Slovenia!  We only got to two of the four wineries as a wine tasting in Slovenia is a very personal experience.   We visited Kuster and Doppler and this took us all day!

First up, we went to Doppler which is a very contemporary winery.  We met the winemaker and she was fantastic at explaining the 10 ( yes 10!!!) wines she wanted us to try.  The servings are huge and there wasn’t anywhere to spit or tip so it all had to be enjoyed! She also showed us around the processing area and explained how her wine was made.  She is a third generation winemaker and the land and vines were set up by her grandfather.  Physically,  this is a particularly interesting winery because it is very contemporary in design.  This is evidenced by everything from the marketing to the buildings.  I found the marketing and artistic aspects very clever and inspired.

After Doppler, we drove down the road to Kuster.  This winemaker is a 5th generation winemaker.   As soon as we arrived, he invited us into his car and drove us around his “farm” showing us the different grapes and vines.  He drove us through to Austria (his winery is close to the border) to the “heart of winemaking” which is a heart shaped road and a very beautiful area.  We enjoyed a glass of wine at the top of this ridge and then he took us back to his house for tastings and a beautiful meat and cheese platter.  The whole experience took about 5 hours!  The family was very keen to share their wines with us and despite feeling like we were holding them up for the day they weren’t keen for us to leave until we had tried all the wines ( we suggested 5, he had 8 or 10 on his list). Apparently they had taken the day off to host us!  The wines were lovely and it was a truly memorable experience.  If you are a wine buff, I highly recommend this experience but take a sober driver; there are lots of wines and the servings are huge!

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Siem Reap. What else?

Everyone goes to Siem Reap for the temples (See previous post).  They are definitely worth the visit but there are other things to do as well.

The city is also well known for its creative arts and there are many, many NGO’s supporting underprivileged or disadvantaged people. These take the form of cafes, handcrafted items and other services. Cambodian people really appreciate your support and are very grateful when you purchase something from them or even look at their stalls. It is clear that Cambodian’s still really need a helping hand after the Khmer Rouge and it is a shame that these organisations constantly battle for funding.

So what else did we do…

Phare, the Cambodian Circus

We were excited to attend this circus as it is run by a group supporting underprivileged children from the Battambang region.  Children are given the opportunity to be trained in music, the arts and circus.  This circus is the result of this work which has produced a living wage for a large number of their students, some going on to perform internationally.

The group we saw perform had great acrobatic skills and the show had a real sense that the youth that it supports had a big hand in designing the show.  The tickets worked out about $20 NZD and were well worth the money.

There is also a very nice gift shop selling Cambodian products. The money from the sale of these items go to the school and community groups.  They are very grateful for any support.

Fish spa

All over the world you can put your feet in a tank full of hungry fish.  They suck at your dead skin and you are left with very soft skin.  If this is your first time you might want to choose a tank with smaller fish.  I hopped in a tank with fish that were reasonably large and boy did they suck!  Great feet as a result.  (About 3 USD)

Shopping

I hired a tuk tuk driver to take me to a number of art and handicraft galleries and workshops.  It cost 12 USD for half a day and I just picked out the places I wanted him to take me.  Some were NGO’s, some were local craftspeople.  It was great to have a look around and see the wide range of lovely gifts available.

Many of the places have workshops where you can see the locals making the products.  A great one for those keen on the arts.

Pub Street and surrounding areas

This is where most of the restaurants and bars are.  There are also street stalls and carts with disco lights and cocktail mixes.  Depending on your inclination, may or may not be a good place to go.  We went for dinner one night but sought out places out of the area for our meals.

Markets

There are loads of markets in Siem Reap, most of which are in town.  A small one worth considering is the Made in Cambodia market on King Road.  There are only about 20 or so stalls but most of them contribute back to the local community that they are supporting.  There are also other shops and cafes there.  It is not crowded.

Also to be considered:

  • Central market
  • Old market
  • Noon night market
  • Night Art market

There are a lot of similar items in these markets but each are slightly different in their focus.  Plenty to explore though.

Spa/massage

Massages are cheap in Cambodia and it is worth getting one!  I tried a massage that was a bamboo massage, which involves an oil massage with heated bamboo sticks used a bit like stones in a hot stone massage.  It was interesting to try something different.  Another type to try would be the traditional Khmer massage which is a dry massage.  This is typically a combination of trigger point massage and stretching.

Landmine museum

The Landmine Museum seems to be overlooked by many as it is quite a distance away (about 40 minutes in a tuk tuk).  It is run by an American couple who work with locals to remove land mines from villages, support local children who are victims of the land mines and run education programmes.

It has a number of displays explaining the history of the museum and why it was set up along with actual land mines and bombs that have been cleared.  The museum was originally set up by a Cambodian man (Aki Ra) who was a child fighter and layer of land mines for the Khmer Rouge. Once the regime fell, he went about removing as many of the mines that he could.  His is an interesting story and the museum is worth visiting. There is a small shop onsite where proceeds go towards helping victims of land mines, education of the children onsite and clearing of land mines.

Worth a visit.

Butterfly park

If you like butterflies or feel like a bit of nature, there is a butterfly park that you can visit on the way to or from the Landmine Museum. While not my thing, we went anyway and I can say that I have never met anyone so passionate about butterflies as the guide that we had.  It costs $5 USD to get in and there is a free tour.  There is a wide range of butterflies to enjoy.

 

Hoi An

Okay full disclosure… I LOVE Hoi An!  If you would like to visit a pretty little old town, with amazing food, shopping, spas and great coffee (this I have on good authority as I don’t drink it), close to a lovely beach, this is the place for you.  It is a photographers dream with the beautiful old buildings in their faded orange hue draped in pink, yellow or white flowers.  At every pause there is something either beautiful or interesting to photograph.  I was a bit sad I didn’t have my DSLR with me.  For me Hoi An offers all the things I love!

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I discovered great iced mint tea, a fantastic lemon meringue pie and the delicious white rose dumplings which we ate at the restaurant of the family who invented them.  They are very famous and supply all the restaurants in the area.  I think we met white rose royalty!

Hoi An is truly beautiful in the evening and we were lucky enough to be there during the lunar celebrations where the little candles are placed in the river.  The first night it rained so was less successful however the second night it was really pretty.  I suspect it is a well practised tourist trap but I don’t care!

Hoi An is famed for it’s lanterns and again in the evening they light up the old buildings and look truly gorgeous.   Yes I am a sucker for lights!

These are the beautiful lanterns that light up the buildings and surrounding areas.

Of course one of the main reasons that people travel to Hoi An is the high density of tailors.  At first finding a good tailor seems quite overwhelming as almost every shop has silks, cottons and leathers displayed with people asking you to come inside to buy something or get something made.  We quickly got used to it but it does take some time.  The best piece of advice I can offer is to make sure that you have plenty of time to explore, talk with store owners, read reviews and check the quality of the reviews.  All is not created equal!

You may also have to fend off people in the street that look for tourists to ask them to come to their shop.  One such hapless character tried it on with us.  At first we were polite and said that we would come to his market stall later (miles away on the other side of town), then he tracked us down an hour later (still miles away) and asked us when we were coming (ok still polite but getting frustrated), third time (we were quite close and said we were on our way), fourth time ( I snapped!). In the end I told him he had pestered us all day (over about 5 hours) and I was NOT coming to his shop.  He looked a bit taken aback but left us alone after that.  Advice:  Be polite but firm with your no thank you’s right from the start!

Between us we engaged a number of tailors and shoe makers.  We decided to get cheaper things that we didn’t care so much about made by people who had similar things on the mannequins on display hoping that this meant that this was what they did well.  For the most part this was true and generally ok.  I got a pair of shorts made this way and they turned out ok.  They cost 20 USD so weren’t ridiculously cheap but suited my purposes.  They are black cotton and will be good travel shorts.

I got three pairs of shoes (2 sandals, one brogues) made from two different shops and am happy (so far) with these.  The proof will be in the wearing!  I was slightly insulted by one of the shoe tailors who tried to sell me nana shoes – she thought it would suit my style.  I spent some time explaining to her that I do not look like this at work!  Bless her, she was so excited with the sandals I asked her to make – all fashion she said!  The brogues turned out beautifully.  I gave them a picture of some white and silver ones off the net and they copied them perfectly right down to the hole punching on the toe.  I wouldn’t get heels made here, I think you need to go for simplicity.

The main tailor that we used was Bebe’s which is one of the few tailors that have their own workshops.  Most of the others contract there’s out to factories.  The advantage of having their own tailors is that they do control the quality.  I am pretty fussy about my work clothes and so was very specific going in.  I tried them out first with a cool coat dress which was the main thing I wanted made.  They made a beautiful job of it and I am very pleased.  This is not the cheapest tailor by any means but I think you get what you pay for.  I ended up getting a couple of other suits copied from my favourite designers/shops at home and a couple of shirts. We went to BEBE 2 (there are 3) and I was helped by Ty (Tea) who was by far the best assistant in the shop.  If you ever go to Bebe 2, you must ask for her.  I wouldn’t deal with anyone else.  She has a good eye, listens carefully and picks up things wrong that even I didn’t.  Getting clothing tailored is not for the faint hearted.  If you like good quality, you will need to allow for at least three fittings over 3-4 days.  We stayed a week and felt that we needed this time.

People don’t really talk much about the beach just out of Hoi An but it is lovely.  It is so hot in Hoi An that you need to do your shopping/ tailor fittings either in the morning or the evening.  The shops are open until late so it is easy to do.  We grabbed a taxi to go to the beach (easy to go by scooter or bike also) and were pleasantly surprised.  The water was clear, the sand white and the vendors not too pushy.  We walked down a bit from the main area and got a quieter spot on a lounger and spent the morning relaxing.  Highly recommended.

 

On the way to the beach I spotted water buffalo in the rice fields along the road side. I decided that a bike ride through the paddies for a buffalo hunt was on the cards.  As it was so hot, we decided to go early (6am).  It was still blisteringly hot at this early hour but we borrowed bikes from the hotel and cycled off armed with camera. Wouldn’t you know it, the buffalo had “done” their job in the close fields the day before and were now in a spot that was not easy to get to.  I ascertained this information from a lovely man who stopped by to chat.  He was on his way to work and he told me that his daughter had married a kiwi and was living in Waihi!  Who would have thought!  Despite not being overly successful with the photo shoot I really enjoyed the ride through the fields, watching the locals work.  (Didn’t join in this time)

Those black blobs above are the buffalo!

We also took a day tour which I would highly recommend.  It was an eco food/cooking tour (8am to 3pm). We started off at the markets, selecting vegetables, meat, herbs and spices to cook our 4 course meal.  A wet market is always a bit of a sensory overload and this was no exception.

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After the market, we got onto a boat to head down the river to Coconut village where the course was to be taken.  We were transferred to a basket boat for the final part where we also caught some crabs at the base of the coconut trees. I’d been wanting to give these boats a whirl so it was pretty cool when the boatman started spinning the boat.  I was the only one that appreciated this!

Next we learnt about rice, how to grind it to get the husks off, making rice milk and making rice pancakes.

Next up, the cooking!  We donned our chef hats and aprons and tried to make the food that was demonstrated.  We successfully made some rice paper rolls, pork and shrimp crispy pancake, a noodle dish and pho.  All delicious but phew were we full!

A worthwhile tour and highly recommended.

Hotel

We stayed at Green Apple Hotel which is pretty cheap, includes breakfast, has 24 hour staff, restaurant and pool.  Because we stayed with them for a week (and presumably no one usually does) we were invited to a meal cooked especially for us one of the nights.  It was a very kind thought despite being asked to rate them on Trip Advisor!  The hotel is on the edge of the old town about 1.5km from the heart of it all.  Unfortunately in the heat this feels like quite a distance so we used the free shuttle when we could and taxis when it suited better.  Taxis really didn’t want to take us so we ended up bribing them with extra money.  This system worked and we managed to get home each night!

I loved Hoi An and would happily return.  Yes it is a tourist trap, but it’s a good one!

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